Brahms: Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120/1 & 2; Clarinet Trio, Op. 114

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Clarinet Sonatas, Op. 120/1 & 2; Clarinet Trio, Op. 114
PERFORMER: Karl Leister (clarinet), Ferenc Bognár (piano), Wolfgang Boettcher (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5600
The Trio in A minor was the first of Brahms’ four works written for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld and, although it has long been overshadowed by the Clarinet Quintet, certainly deserves equal status. The two works are fundamentally different in their use of the instrumental characterisation, for while the Quintet exploits the blend of clarinet and strings, the Trio emphasises the contrasting personalities of the three players. In this respect the recording here is less convincing than the performance of Thea King, Karina Georgian and Clifford Benson who succeed in polarising these individual qualities with white hot, passionate cello set against the cooler, suave clarinet.

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Both Karl Leister and Ferenc Bognár make fabulously seductive sounds, but occasionally this can be counterproductive; perhaps a harder-edged quality would enhance the more turbulent moments in this music. A case in point would be the last movement which really needs a more fiery approach, and the slower, more relaxed tempo they take fails to bring it alive. Conversely, the tempi they use for the first two movements are substantially faster than those of the King/Georgian/Benson version and this also adds to the feeling that the range of expressive potential is not being explored to the full.

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To a lesser extent the same criticism could be applied to the two Clarinet Sonatas in which the lyrical passages undoubtedly benefit from Leister’s famoulsy beautiful tone, but there are times, espeically in the F minor Sonata, when a greater level of excitement is needed. Tim Payne